March 9, 2018 - After burning underground for nearly 40 years, a mine fire at a coal operation in Banks Township, Pennsylvania is close to being fully extinguished.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday that the fire has been contained in the affected area and does not appear to have spread beyond its original boundaries of 29 acres.
“The work plan has proved successful in getting rid of this dangerous public nuisance,” John Stefanko, DEP’s deputy secretary for active and abandoned mining operations, said in a news release. “With tremendous cooperation from the township and nearby residents, DEP has been able to carry out a work plan that has brought us closer to a fully extinguished fire and soon, reclaimed land for future use.”
The mine fire is burning in two places — where Atlantic Carbon is mining coal, and in coal spoils in an abandoned area nearby. The site is between Jeanesville and Tresckow.
The fire is being addressed through the active mining operations and an isolation trench project. Hazleton Shaft Inc. is the contractor for the project, which began in 2015 and is overseen by DEP.
Two large trenches are being dug to reach and attack the underground blaze — one in an east-west direction, and the other in a north-south direction on the 29-acre site where the fire is believed to be burning. The project is designed to separate the mine fire from the rest of the site and excavate material from the trench and douse that material with water.
The isolation trench has been constructed near the southern end of the mine fire site and should be completed later this year.
Approximately 3 million cubic yards of material have been excavated and about 44 million gallons of water were used to quench hot material, DEP said Thursday. Approximately 1 million cubic yards of material has been excavated within the active mining area for the mine fire abatement.
Last month, DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said more than 50 acres of the reclaimed area has been seeded and that the reclamation project should be completed by late summer or early fall.
The fire was discovered when Atlantic Carbon/Hazleton Shaft leased its parcel from the landowner, Pagnotti Enterprises, in 2012 and began mining there.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, has said DEP told him the fire dates back to 1973, when garbage was lit on fire. The fire became a public nuisance in 2015 when an odor pervaded the nearby villages of Jeanesville and Tresckow.
In the spring of 2016, at the request of residents, DEP’s Air Quality Program monitored the air around the fire during the day and night. The monitoring showed no dangerous gases were present in the air.
Atlantic Carbon/Hazleton Shaft drilled a well so it could pour 100,000 gallons of water per day on the fire. The firm is also buying untreated water from the Hazleton City Authority, an agreement that was part of the action plan.
The project is being funded by Pennsylvania’s federal abandoned mine land grant, which is subsidized by the coal industry via fees paid on each ton of coal mined.
A portion of the fire was burning near a habitat for the northern long-eared bat, which is an endangered species. The state Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation received permission from the federal government to cut down hemlock trees that are considered part of the habitat to fight the fire.
After the fire is fully extinguished, a project to mitigate for the loss of the bat habitat will be initiated based on the guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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